"Chevy Chase isn't funny! I think he's the worst comedian ever!" blah, blah, BLAH. Look, you're not exactly putting yourself on display as a beacon of original thought when you talk shit about Chevy Chase. Yes we all know he hasn't done much in his later years. Yes we all know he had a godawful talk show. Yes we all know "Cops and Robbersons" is probably what really killed Jack Palance. But the fact remains, Chevy did some extremely good stuff back in the day with films such as The Three Amigos!, Spies Like Us, Fletch (and Fletch Lives) and more. The man did some great films and it shouldn't be overlooked so easily.
What he's perhaps best known for, is his role as Clark W. Griswold in National Lampoon's "Vacation" films. One of the whitest, witless, bumbling father figures you'll ever see on the screen, Clark Griswold's family adventures were an instant hit. For a lot of people, Christmas Vacation is their favorite in the series, and it's easy to see why. It accurately portrays the pains of families coming together over the holidays and annoying the living hell out of each other. Just like A Christmas Story, Scrooged and Jack Frost, it's one of those movies you have to see come December each year.
So to pay tribute to one of my favorite holiday flicks, here's what I think are the ten best things about Christmas Vacation!
Eyes Of Guilt!
Towards the end of the movie, Clark chews out his boss for giving him and all other employees the shaft in the form of a "Jelly of the Month" club enrollment as opposed to a Christmas bonus check. The family members glare right at Clark's boss to let him know just how disappointed they are in what he did. Most of them are genuinely pissed off, but cousin Eddie's kid "Rocky" looks downright heartbroken. I swear, the only reason that kid is in this movie is because he used those same puppy dog eyes during his audition and the casting director felt guilty right away. Sure enough, those eyes have the same effect on Clark's boss and he reinstates the bonus checks plus an additional 20%. Rumor has it, this kid used those eyes of his to negotiate an acting salary that was higher than what Chevy Chase made in the film. Way to go kid!
Who doesn't wish this stuff was real? Nobody, that's who. When it comes to sledding, the only thing that matters is having the fastest, longest ride each time you go down the hill. Clark, being a specialist in designing food additives, decides to test out one of his company's latest kitchen lubricant products on the bottom of his saucer sled. He assumes it will make his sled go somewhat faster, but soon discovers that it turns the thing into greased lightning.
Shooting down the snowy hills and leaving a trail of fire behind him, Clark blasts his way through the forest and across a highway before his ride finally ends in a trash bin. Now that is how all sled rides should be! Somebody out there needs to make this stuff. Yo scientists! Forget about curing cancer... THIS is what society demands! Sled Lube!
All Clark wants to do for Christmas is give his family a brand new swimming pool in their backyard. Throughout the movie, he's constantly worrying about not being able to afford it since his Christmas bonus check hasn't come in the mail yet. Still, this doesn't stop him from daydreaming about all the fun they'll have with the new pool. That is until cousin Eddie appears in his daydream wearing a wifebeater, flippers, and a leopard print banana hammock while chugging a beer. Classy as ever, Eddie. Clark's dream then shifts to a fantasy of the lingerie saleswoman, who he met earlier in the movie, stripping out of her bathing suit right before his eyes on the diving board of the pool. Personally, I've always been thankful that it wasn't cousin Eddie doing the stripping in this daydream sequence.
I should also note that, during this scene, they play Bing Crosby's "Mele Kalikimaka" which is one of the greatest Christmas tunes you'll ever hear.
The so-called pride and joy of cousin Eddie's family is a dog called "Snots" - named because of a sinus condition that appears to cause the animal to leak mucus all over its face. I never could stand dogs who slobber all over themselves, and this mutt appears to take a lack of fluid control to a whole new disturbing level. In addition to hunting squirrels, digging through the trash, and drinking all the water from under the family Christmas tree, Snots also makes some of the most amazingly disgusting noises when yacking on a bone. It's the same kind of sound I imagine one would automatically make upon viewing Dustin "Screech" Diamond's homemade porn movie.
After having his dream tree burnt down by Uncle Lewis, Clark becomes psychotic and runs out to the yard to chop down a new tree. Unbeknownst to him, this new tree is already occupied by a squirrel. They don't notice it at first, but the nearly deaf Aunt Bethany (played by Mae "Betty Boop" Questel I might add) somehow hears the squirrel squeaking in the tree. Sure this little creature scares the entire family, but when Clark's father sees the squirrel latched onto his son's back, his face becomes overwhelmed with utter terror. It's the look of ultimate fear overcoming the old man's face combined with his scream of "SQUIRREL!" that easily makes this one of the greatest moments in the movie. I'd gladly pay to see a movie about killer squirrels in which grandpa screams "SQUIRREL!" anytime he spots one.
A big part of giving Clark's dreams of giving his family the best Christmas ever is to have the best looking house in the neighborhood. This, of course, means going all out with the Christmas lights. While his son helps him out by untangling huge knots of lights, Clark staples them all over the house one by one. Not surprisingly, this leads to some of his trademark clumsy actions and crazed fits of anger, but in the end he does pull it off. The house lights up so brightly that the local power plant has to flip on their auxiliary nuclear power just to keep all the other homes still lit up.
My only gripe about this scene is that the house would've looked ten times better if he had used multi-colored lights on it instead. I grew up in New York where all we used were those huge, fat-assed multi-colored bulbs which made your house look incredibly awesome and kaleidoscopic. The only people who used the plain white lights were boring yuppies who would be too ashamed to have such a variety of colors displayed on their precious homes. Which brings me to the next thing on my list...
A constant source of humor throughout the movie are Todd and Margo - the yuppie neighbors who live next door to the Griswolds and look down on everything they do. Played by Christopher Guest's brother, Nicholas, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, they're the perfect representation of people who you'd picture spending their time at art gallery shows, pretentiously discussing how certain pieces of abstract art are actually commentaries about the downfall of our society in modern times. The running gag during the movie is that no matter what Clark does, it always somehow results in making Todd and Margo's life a living hell.
After getting back home late one night, Todd and Margo discover that their stereo have been destroyed by an unknown object (a block of ice that Clark managed to send flying from his gutters through their window). The two of them are completely baffled and exasperated, and when Margot asks "Why is the carpet wet, Todd?", he puts a lot of yuppie-angst emphasis into his response: "I don't KNOW Margot!" Easily one of my favorite lines in the movie.
And how about their workout garbs? Those silver outfits look like something straight out of a futurist novel or a Devo video rather than something you'd actually want to work out in. Perfection.
I guess I always liked this scene because I've never been a fan of Turkey. I can't even remember the last time I ate it because, whenever Thanksgiving rolls around, I try to make a point to eat chicken or go to a Japanese restaurant instead. Anyway, Eddie's wife Catherine overcooks the turkey so badly that as soon as Clark tries cutting it with the knife, it bursts open to reveal a completely dried out carcass. Even better is how, just like in real life, all the guests try to be nice to the cook by playing it off and acting like it's still perfectly good to eat. So we see all of them struggling as they chew on the dried-out turkey bits, except for Clark's wife who cleverly chucks pieces over her shoulder while pretending to eat them. There's something very similar to seeing that turkey rip itself apart and the chest-burster scene from the movie "Alien".
Shitter Was Full!
Wearing nothing but a short bathrobe, Eddie stands outside early one winter morning with a cigar in his mouth and a beer in one hand while he empties out the "shitter" from his R/V into a nearby storm sewer. Clark's neighbor Todd steps outside for his morning jog, but when he sees Eddie raise his beer up in the air and shout, "Merry Christmas! Shitter was full!", while dumping that filth into the sewer, he immediately decides to retreat back into the safety of his own home.
Now if that doesn't make for a perfect Christmas card, I don't know what does.
Last but not least, who can forget those awesome moose-shaped cups that Clark and cousin Eddie drank eggnog out of? They're actually they're based on the "Marty Moose" character from the first movie. Watching them hold onto those big moose antlers, you can't deny that you wanted those glasses for yourself. I was really excited when I found out that reproductions of the moose cups have been made and are available for purchase online. Unfortunately, if you want to own a moose cup, it's going to set you back quite a bit. For a meager set of two, you'll pay in excess of $150.00 for these things on eBay.
I know that seems like a total ripoff, but I spoke with the people who make them over at www.CanadianMoose.com and they told me that the original artist (who made the mugs for the movie) is the person who is hand-making these Moose Mug reproductions and I can't help but want to own a set. It's because of this movie that drinking eggnog out of anything other than a glass moose head just feels completely wrong. Now I understand that it might be too pricey for some of you. The good news is that it's rumored that they might eventually sell some some plastic versions of the mugs on their site which would be a lot cheaper, so keep an eye out for that. Personally, I'd rather have the glass ones though.
update 12/21/06: I received a set of the Moose Mugs and I've gotta say, the quality of these things is extremely impressive. If there was ever a set of cups worth $150.00, it's definitely these Moose Mugs.
In the end, I think what makes so many people appreciate this movie as a must-see Christmas classic is how easy it is to relate to. So this month, be sure to bust out your moose cups, chug down some eggnog, empty the shitter and watch Christmas Vacation, because there's no denying that it's one of the best festive flicks of the holiday season.
Have any questions or comments about this piece?
p.s.: Whatever you do, do NOT watch the Christmas Vacation 2 sequel to this movie.
It's a horribly low budget, direct-to-video, made-for-TV disaster that will make you die inside.
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